Duo goes vi­ral with pho­tos of black girls’ nat­u­ral hair

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - As­so­ci­ated Press

ATLANTA – The kinks. The waves. The twists. The bloom­ing afro.

Atlanta photography duo Kahran and Regis Bethen­court want to cel­e­brate the ver­sa­til­ity and beauty of nat­u­ral hair.

A year ago, the own­ers of CreativeSoul Photography launched the “AfroArt” se­ries, which fea­tures African-Amer­i­can girls in all their nat­u­ral hair glory.

Al­though the se­ries was shot a year ago, it re­cently went vi­ral, thanks in part to so­cial me­dia shout outs from celebri­ties like Taraji P. Hen­son, Mor­ris Chest­nut and Tia Mowry.

The col­lec­tion is pow­er­ful in its en­tirety.

The col­lec­tion in­cludes 25 pho­tos shot around the na­tion with var­i­ous themes. There was steam­punk in New York. The Baroque pe­riod in Dallas. Be­jew­eled and crowned queens in Los An­ge­les and AfroEarth in Oak­land, where nat­u­ral el­e­ments were used to adorn the mod­els’ hair. The girls range in age from 4 to 13.

“It was cool to show­case those eras in a new light,” she said. “This was not some­thing peo­ple had seen be­fore.”

The Bethen­courts have re­leased a cal­en­dar fea­tur­ing some of the pho­to­graphs (Hen­son re­cently bought 10) and are in talks with a pub­lisher about a cof­fee-ta­ble book to be re­leased per­haps in 2018. They also sell some of the pho­to­graphs as prints or on can­vas, rang­ing from $40 to $300.

When the hus­band-and-wife team first sent out calls for young mod­els, par­ents would some­times get their chil­dren's hair straight­ened for the ses­sion, “be­cause that's what they thought they needed to get into the in­dus­try – to be a top model or ac­tor.”

One of the girls pic­tured in the se­ries is Phoenix Lyles, 10, a fifth-grader at Their hair: Keep­ing it real. King Springs Ele­men­tary School in Smyrna, who has worn nat­u­ral hair since she was even younger. The at­ten­tion doesn’t faze her.“I feel pretty good with nat­u­ral hair,” she said.

It’s more ac­cept­able in many cir­cles. Com­mer­cials, print ads and films and tele­vi­sion shows of­ten fea­ture chil­dren and teens with locs, Afros, twists and the like.

Rita Harrell, co-owner of Big Pic­ture Cast­ing in Atlanta, which has worked with clients like Nike and Wal-Mart and on projects like “Hang­man” and “Vengeance: A Love Story,” said it’s much more com­mer­cially ac­cept­able, “even de­sired” than it used to be.

She thinks it’s the gen­eral trend to­ward mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in ad­ver­tis­ing. “They want to make sure all types and all walks of life are rep­re­sented.”

They of­ten hear from par­ents who said they showed their daugh­ters the pho­tos “so they can love their nat­u­ral hair. They go to school and they want to cover it up.”

The two en­joyed a bi­coastal ro­mance be­fore mar­ry­ing in 2011. Kahran, 37, lived in Ore­gon and Regis, 40, lived in his na­tive Mary­land. They met dur­ing an on­line graph­ics de­sign fo­rum. They de­cided to move to Atlanta, when Regis en­rolled at Gwin­nett Tech­ni­cal Col­lege to study photography.

His wife, who nur­tured a love for photography, would learn along with him. In 2009, they started a photography busi­ness. It was sat­is­fy­ing, but some­thing was miss­ing.

They slowly backed away from the part of the busi­ness they didn't en­joy as much, such as shoot­ing wed­dings and new­borns. “It did not make us as happy as when shoot­ing kids,” she said. “They (chil­dren and youths) can be in­ter­est­ing. They like be­ing in front of the cam­era, and they’re usu­ally full of per­son­al­ity. A lit­tle bribe with Skit­tles and they're good.”

Adults, on the other hand, were found to be more stress­ful, said Regis. “I’m a child my­self,” he said. “Adults are too wor­ried about how peo­ple see them or things like their weight.”

The goal, said Regis, is to take the pro­ject global.

He said they’ve got­ten re­quests from the United King­dom and var­i­ous na­tions in Africa. How are they deal­ing with their new­found fame?

“It’s weird to go to an­other coun­try and peo­ple rec­og­nize you on the street,” he said. “I don’t think that’s nor­mal for pho­tog­ra­phers.”



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